Chief Fire Officer Robert John Rooke passed away on 21 April 2006 aged 87.

Robert was born on 15 September 1918. Sadly very little is known of his younger life until he joined the Royal Navy in 1933. He remained in the senior service until 1948 during which time he became highly decorated having served as a Petty Officer during the evacuation of Dunkirk and shortly afterwards transferring to submarines and spending most of the remainder of the Second World War in the Mediterranean with the 10th Submarine Flotilla based at Malta. From September 1941 Robert was involved in the flotillas key war objectives, disrupting German and Italian supply ships reaching Axis forces in North Africa including Rommel's Afrika Corps. 

Of their operations Winston Churchill was later to write; over 60 per cent of Rommel’s supplies were sunk in passage. These hard fought battles from the depths played a significant part in hastening the end of the conflict in this theatre. 

HMS Una of the 10th Flotilla leaving Malta's Grand Harbour.

Robert left the Royal Navy in 1948 and entered the profession of firefighting at Surrey and rapidly achieved the rank of Sub Officer. In 1957 he left for Hertfordshire to fulfill an appointment as Station Officer in Letchworth and three years later moved to brigade headquarters as Assistant Divisional Officer and full D.O. by 1962. 

In 1963 he transferred to Oxfordshire to serve as Deputy Chief Officer. When the father of the Isle of Wight County Fire Brigade Richard Fitzmaurice Sullivan announced his impending retirement in 1965 the County Council went in to top gear to find someone capable of filling Chief Officer Dick Sullivan's shoes.

On 5 June 1965 Commander W.O. Rees Millington, chairman of the Civil Defence and Fire Brigade Committee announced that Robert had been appointed and would take up the position on 1 July. 

County Fire Headquarters as it would have appeared around the time of CFO Rooke's appointment.

Newly appointed CFO Rooke wasted no time in getting to grips with his command team and in October that year took charge of a weekend course of advanced instruction based at the Priory Secondary Girls School and fire headquarters. 15 of the Island's officers in charge of stations attended for a series of lectures and demonstrations including individual fire risks, chemical fires, legislation, fire prevention, practical firemanship and mobilisation and communications. In order to foster greater relationships between the fire brigade and the risks they faced, a host of representatives of local industry were also invited to attend and share their professional expertise.

By then CFO Rooke had already taken charge of a major fire that caused substantial damage at the Birdham Hotel in Bembridge. Rooke also showed a great desire to increase awareness of fire prevention across the community and championed many initiatives, backed by regular columns in the County Press, describing safe methods of work for both professionals and DIY'ers in their endeavours. The post-war version of the Auxiliary Fire Service was subject to his equal scrutiny and he spent many hours of April 1966 observing and commenting on the mass AFS Exercise Sea Breeze that stretched the auxiliary resources between Rookley, Whale Chine and Freshwater. Later the same month two TV cameramen, Press reporters and a police car were in hot pursuit of multiple fire engines that bore down on the Cowes premises of Messrs. J. Arthur Dixon, expecting to find a huge conflagration. The followers arrived to no sign of flame or smoke but a smiling CFO Rooke explained that; I originated the call as an exercise to see how quickly units could turn out to deal with premises that have a potentially big fire risk; and with great satisfaction he added; It is exceptional! We had six jets on in about 20 minutes!

In the November he supported his Newport AFS Station Officer Hyland to stage a commando style training exercise at Gunville Brickworks. Over seventy Island AFS members, both men and women, attended and according to the County Press correspondent; grappled with the rugged course racing against the clock. They raced up sloping ladders, and had to swing across a simulated river, carrying items of equipment some of which weighed 80lb. In the end the Freshwater AFS were crowned the champions and all were congratulated by the Chief Fire Officer.

Freshwater AFS; the image shows a trophy but it's not proven if this is the same one they won at the AFS commando event.

When the disbandment of the AFS was announced in 1968, CFO Rooke expressed his disappointment; it is a great pity the AFS is being disbanded, I think particularly here on the Island we have a very good team. He was however fully supportive of the outgoing members desire to form a friendly association. 

After a little over three years in the role he announced his intention to leave in the summer of 1968 and in September departed to serve as Chief Fire Officer in Dudley, Worcestershire which he commenced on 1 October. 

When he ended his fire service career and whether or not it extended to other parts of the country isn't known, but clearly his three years on the Island in the 1960's had an effect and he returned here in his retirement, passing away on 21 April 2006. Ten years later his entire array of medals were seen for sale at an online auction site and sold for £150. I have since heard from a member of the family that the medals were misplaced during a house move but since they appeared for sale have been returned to their rightful place.

Rest in peace Chief Fire Officer Rooke.